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20th Anniversary Rendezvous - Robert Rodale

I've always been more optimistic than pessimistic, but I'm now getting really optimistic. The big contributions of the last 20 years have been made by people focusing on problems, both agriculturally and environmentally. The movement toward change in the next 20 years is going to focus much more on solutions. We've documented the problem, and have created a real broad base of understanding of these problems, but now the crucial challenge of the next 20 years is to switch into a much more solution-oriented mode. If we don't, we're going to lose the public. The mass of people in any country have a tendency to become immune to problems after a while.

We have an opening now to really move away from'being parochial in the matter of language. Are we going to talk about this movement in ways that exclude people, or are we going to talk in language that makes these solutions available to everybody? We've made a beginning in agriculture, for example, with concepts such as sustainability, regeneration, and low input. These are now part of the mainstream, in the sense that these ideas and this language is where the action is.

I foresee in the next 20 years a fundamental switch from an intellectual focus on the city to an intellectual focus on the countryside. We've been through a period of perhaps 150 years when all the intellectuals and the thinkers went to the city. The ideas which were most exciting and which were changing the world were coming out of cities. It's become clear now that the city as an environment is very temporary, and not sustainable. Current thinkers are so narrow in their thought because they're all tied in with universities and disciplines and specialization, and city things. In cities there is no basis for thinking about regeneration, or sustainability. I foresee agriculture as more than just a way to grow food and fiber. It's a framework for new visions of society.

This doesn't mean people will necessarily move. The back-to-the-land movement that really started in the mid-'40s, right after the war, and continued up through the '60s until not too long ago, was a back-to-the-land to live. This is different. This is back-to-the-land to think. The previous back-to-the-land movement was very much focused on the individual who wanted 10 acres and independence. This person not only didn't care much about farming as a whole agricultural environment, he also had no basis to influence it. That movement has not died. It's just that the people who are doing it are older and retired now. Getting back-to-the-land to think means that only people who work in broad natural systems, and biological systems including agriculture, will have the capacity to think about the sustainability of the World itself. Agriculture will be seen as a basis for thinking about the world in the future.

Society needs a continual flow of big new ideas and we haven't been getting any lately. We're dealing with old large ideas which are getting kind of tired. Some great ones of the past have been evolution, mass production, communism, Christianity as religion, and psychoanalysis. The big ideas that are very interesting and exciting now are coming from natural resources. Conservation is one of them. Regeneration is another, the big idea that is at the center of my work. Not only do natural resources need regenerating, so do social, economic and political resources.